There’s an article over at Gamasutra talking about a recent lawsuit. A parent of a teenager is asking for a refund of all unauthorized facebook credit purchases made by minors in the US. Instead of parenting to ensure her teenager doesn’t use her credit card without her approval, she wants laws to parent for her.
What’s more appalling is the comments. Though there are a few voices of reason essentially saying “parent your damn kids,” there are just as many people saying “freemium” games – games which are free to play but then have microtransactions – should be made illegal. The temptation to steal a parent’s credit card or lie about your age should be removed, so that parents don’t have to worry about teaching their children not to do these things.
Sigh. This prompted me to share an anecdote:
Awhile ago I was at the grocery store, and I asked my daughter to help me pick out some cereal. She said “How about this one?” and then I realized that all the sugary cereal was at child-eye-level, while the healthier stuff was at adult-eye-level. I didn’t sue, I didn’t say there should be a law against that, I didn’t even complain to the store; I thought “what a great marketing tactic!” and said to my daughter, “All the cereal down here is very sugary. They put those down here so kids will see them. Let’s read these boxes up here and find something a little healthier.” Then I put back the cereal I didn’t want my child purchasing, and helped her pick out something else. The next time we went to the cereal isle, she at first started to go for the sugary cereal, but then said “Oh yeah, we have to look higher and read the boxes!”
If I had not been paying attention and had not taught my daughter to ask before doing so, she could have grabbed some of the cereal I didn’t want and put it in the cart. If I had left her to just pick out the cereal herself, she would have picked that first sugary cereal. But I parented. First, I taught her to ask before purchasing something (and I don’t leave my credit card info saved in situations where my kids – or myself, because I’ve done that before, due to not reading fully – could accidentally purchase something). I paid attention to what she was doing, and was involved. I said no, and I taught her why, so that she can make good purchasing decisions in the future; that will help her when she’s shopping for herself one day.
The point of this is not “sugary cereal is bad, mmmkay?” Adults that want to eat the sugary cereal and adults that are fine with their children choosing the sugary cereal should be able to purchase the sugary cereal. I like games that let you play for free and then have microtransactions. I like games that appeal to kids but are fun for adults too; I like playing those with my kids. So I should be able to pay for those, and I should be able to give my kids permission to pay for those. (Let’s not even get into the fact that facebook games aren’t focused toward children anyway.)
As I said when someone bought up drugs (with “No good parent would allow their kids to interact with a drug pusher – so I guess that doesn’t need to be illegal either.”) - Think about alcohol; it’s legal for adults to buy, and legal for a parent to choose to give it to their child in most states, it’s only illegal for someone under 18 to buy it. If the child has access to alcohol (it is in their house, in their friend’s house, etc.) and their parents don’t want the child having any, it is up to the parent to prevent that. If a child has access to facebook games and their parents don’t want them paying for them, it is up to the parents to prevent that.
Yeah, that should have been 21, not 18, but you get what I’m saying. We, as a country, decided that adults – and children with permission – should be able to enjoy alcohol. That even though it may be in the homes of children or their friends, it’s up to the parents to ensure the children drink a moderate amount or none at all. That it’s up to parents to teach their children to ask permission first, and that saying yes the child can have a sip or a glass does not mean the child can empty the whole bottle. Why can so many people not use those same parenting skills when addressing things like facebook credits?
People bring up the argument that “parents don’t understand these games.” But just like anything else, if they don’t understand, they should either educate themselves or not allow their child to participate. You don’t buy a bottle of vodka and then let your child drink it all because you didn’t understand the whole alcohol content thing. Just like anything else, you involve yourself in what your child is doing, and educate your child. You don’t drop your child off at the grocery store with your credit card and no prior grocery shopping education and then be surprised if they come back with $200 worth of sugary cereal and candy. Just like any other situation in the world, YOU PARENT.
Facebook is not (and should not be made into) a babysitter, not even when combined with laws. And if you still need a babysitter to ensure your teenager does not make unauthorized purchases with your credit card, you’re doing something wrong.